Happy new year all! Whew, well, there's a lot of catching up to do about stuff Catzie and I were doing in November--we performed at the MAASU Leadership Retreat at Denison University, the University of Vermont, and Wheaton College--and I want to tell you about all the wonderful people we met. So many touching and unexpected moments occurred during our time with these people in these places--we are truly blessed.
But I thought I should start the new year by telling you about my amazing poetry students. For those of you who don't know, I teach developmental writing and reading at Community College of Philadelphia. I've been involved with the student literary magazine there (shout out to the CAP Literary Magazine and Leslye Friedberg!), and since becoming a full-time professor, decided I would offer a spoken poetry workshop to students. The first year was a little rough b/c I couldn't really figure out what the best format for the workshop would be. I didn't want to lead the workshop, or dictate its content or form--I wanted students to be the driving force and I would just offer observations and guidance here and there. Many students, I think, came in thinking they would read their poetry and everyone would be like "That's so dope! Don't change a thing!" but when it didn't turn out like that, some left. I also think I had a hard time figuring out the scheduling so that it could be offered when students were available. But the year second year brought some great students, and the workshop has emerged into a wonderful space where my students can dialogue, share, and critique with love and respect for one another.
After meeting Lis Bass, an English professor a Camden County College, we were invited to come out to CCC for a Slam event Lis was organizing for her own poetry students. My students were itchin' to get in front of a real audience and be on a real stage--especially after seeing Adriel Luis (from Ill-Literacy) perform when he graciously agreed to visit my workshop as well as Catzie who visited us twice.
I told my students just to have a good time, and I can't even begin to tell you how proud I was when they each got up and shared their poetry--even Rasheeda who writes such beautiful poetry but is nervous about getting in front of people to read them. Anyway, here are some pictures of the event which were sent to me by Lis Bass.
This is Steve. It's so funny; when I think I about my first impression of Steve, he came off in my regular writing/reading lab class as wanting to be the "clown". But then he started coming to the poetry workshops and somehow his goofiness became kind of sweet. But I also truly believe the way he's erupted into his own voice through his poetry has enabled him to focus and be more serious about wanting to do well academically and just be the best he can be, all-around. He's also developed more self-confidence performing--just look at the way he's goes down into the audience to spit his verses (and Lavita's liking him from the audience as you can see!):
This is Lindo.
Lindo has been a part of my poetry workshop since the beginning, and I have to say, is a major factor in why it's been so successful this past year. If any student at CCP could be identified as the college's Poet Laureate, it would be Lindo. Not only is he a good poet (and he's not lacking in self-confidence about that!), but he's always striving to be better. When it comes to the lyrical content and form of his poems, Lindo is tuned into what best communicates his own vision. He really looks into deeper meanings and is always asking "Why?" and "What about?" It's clear to me that the other students in the workshop respect him, both for his own poetry and for the feedback he gives them about theirs. And look! other folks think he's great too b/c he won a prize at the CCC slam (in fact he had the highest score among the 5 judges, and I know this because I was one of the judges (as was Catzie):
I want to tell you about Rasheeda now. I have only one individual picture of her from the slam:
But here's another one of her with the whole CCP group during dinner:
Yes, they served dinner at this slam! Just look at this spread!
We should slam like this more often. Back to Rasheeda: I can't even begin to tell you how happy I was when Rasheeda went on-stage to share her poetry. Rasheeda is another student who has been part of the poetry workshop since the beginning. As I mentioned, she's a bit shy about sharing in front of people she doesn't know, but her work is so beautiful. She has such a good ear for sound (alliteration and assonance) and rhythms and making them work organically with her imagery. Many of her poems are sort of stream of consciousness but she also likes to play with form and structure. She brings such richness to our group--as well as keeps the guys in check! We're very lucky to have her.
I don't have an individual picture for Rob, but here's one that he's in:
OK, so Rob is on the far right; the poet in the middle is Akeem, a student from Rutgers-Camden, and, hey! there's Lindo AGAIN! Anyway, Rob also won a prize at the slam. He has this great sense of humor (and is actually an amateur stand-up comedian) and he did this piece about English teachers/professors who always find some way to do a sexual analysis of literary texts. Very funny--and very in line with how his English teacher last semester was reading a D.H. Lawrence short story. Rob has also been a great addition to the poetry workshop--he's particularly insightful about human behavior and finding the mundane but hilarious ways in which people behave and interact with one another. A natural story teller--who frequently teases me about having a Clark Kent alter ego!
Finally, I want to talk about Jarell aka 'Rell aka Black C aka Black Cancer. I have no individual shots, but Black C is the second one from the right (dressed in black) in this group shot of the slam winners:
Jarell started coming to our poetry workshop a bit late last semester. I think one of my colleagues had been urging him to come b/c she had read some his writing and thought he used such great descriptive language. And even though I'm pretty sure I told him about it during one of our classes, it took him a while to get there (I think some of my students in class, when they hear I'm a poet, automatically think it's some corny type of poetry that they wouldn't be able to relate to. If they happen to look for the Def Poetry clip online, they are usually pretty shocked--their reactions when they see me in class after that are pretty hilarious.) Anyway, we're glad 'Rell finally made his way to the workshop b/c he has added real depth to our seeing and discussing performance. When he's on-stage as Black C, he has a really strong sense of self and stage presence. He was a bit controversial at the slam (one of the judges didn't like his poetry and performance), but the rest of us felt he was one of our winners.
Some other students who came to lend their support were Katherine and Leroy (who also performed). Also, Jeanette, another workshop regular, wasn't well and couldn't come--we missed her. Also, Catzie has been generous with her time in coming to the workshop twice last semester and participating in the slam. Here she is while we were performing, I think (oh yeah, I didn't mention that we were asked to perform some of our poetry during the open mic after the slam):
Adriel Luis and Omar Telan were also wonderful in visiting my workshop this semester and offering their advice and sharing their work.
I wanted to start the new year talking about my students b/c they have revived my own enthusiasm for poetry and its power to be something really meaningful. With Catzie, I've been in this poetry game for 7 1/2 years, and there have definitely been moments when the poetry scene has been frustrating for me b/c of competitiveness or straight-up hate that I/we've gotten when all I/we ever wanted was to raise consciousness and bring people together. But these students are so excited about poetry and sincere in good-will and high hopes that I've been inspired by them. They've even given an old cynic like me some optimism that the world CAN be improved--one poem at a time.
All the best in the new year,